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Why collect Indigenous voices

The State Library of NSW has a recent history of working with First Nations peoples and communities across NSW and Australia. The establishment of the Indigenous Engagement team in 2013 was an exciting opportunity for the Library to extend these activities and to work in partnership with communities to develop programs and enhance collections relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

In 2015 the Indigenous Collecting Strategy was developed to assist the Library to proactively collect in this priority area. The plan sought to collect published and unpublished materials, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, individuals and communities. The new First Nations Collecting Strategy (2023) builds on this foundation to collect cultural materials that illustrate individual and community contributions in areas such as history, culture, activism, literature, oral histories and creative expression.

Importantly this new strategy acknowledges the contested histories which the Library holds, and makes clear recommendations for ensuring that First Nations voices are prioritised and celebrated in our ongoing collecting activities.

PDF icon Read the First Nations Collecting Strategy

George Augustus Robinson journal, Port Phillip Protectorate, 5 July-6 August 1841
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The Library holds rich collections relating to Australian Indigenous history and culture, however a large majority of these collections were written about rather than by Indigenous people and communities. To develop its present Indigenous collections, the Library seeks to put particular emphasis on developing its collections of material created by Indigenous people, who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the life of NSW and its communities. 

Examples of contents in the Library’s collections has been collected by European organisations and individuals – colonists, explorers, surveyors, landowners, missionaries, and government officials are:

  • George Augustus Robinson, government administrator
  • The Anglican Board of Missions
  • Australian Indigenous Ministries (formerly Aboriginal Inland Mission), and the Presbyterian, Uniting and Methodist churches
  • Explorers Sir Thomas Mitchell and Ludwig Leichhardt
  • Anthropologists Herbert Basedow and Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer.                                                      

The collection of the Library include few materials created by Indigenous people, including materials of:

  • Leaders Pearl Mary (Gambanyi) Gibbs and Faith Bandler;
  • Author Ruby Langford Ginibi;
  • Author and inventor, David Unaipon, including the original manuscript of Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, 1924-25, the first published work of an Indigenous author;
  • Artists, Mickey of Ulladulla and Tommy McRae;
  • Political organisations: Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship, the Aborigines Progressive Association and the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs.